Just how rare is Polanco's IL stint?

Infielder nearing return after being sidelined for the first time in his MLB career

June 25th, 2022

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Jorge Polanco played through most of the second half of the 2019 campaign with pain in his right ankle and underwent surgery on that ankle in consecutive offseasons, following both the ‘19 and ‘20 seasons.

Somehow, that never sent him to the injured list.

In fact, here’s something remarkable: When Polanco landed on the 10-day IL last Thursday with low back tightness, it marked the first time the 28-year-old has been sidelined with an injury in his nine-year big league career, despite his history of significant ankle issues and the fact that he has frequently been cited over the last four seasons as one of the most banged-up players in the Twins’ clubhouse, essentially, at any given time.

The only time Polanco had ever been on the IL as a professional was all the way back in August 2013, when a groin strain sidelined him for 13 days while with Class A Cedar Rapids.

The lack of precedence for Polanco’s absence hasn’t been lost on his manager. 

"It's very strange,” Rocco Baldelli said. “It's very strange. It's strange for him, probably more so than it's strange for any of us. All he knows is how to play. He loves to play. It's very difficult to get him out of the lineup, because he's never going to take himself out. But it's very difficult to play a long, long time and never go on the IL. It's almost impossible to do.”

Polanco has made 1,824 plate appearances since the start of the ‘19 season, ranking fifth among all American League hitters in that span, behind only Whit Merrifield (Royals, 2,031 PA), Marcus Semien (A’s/Blue Jays/Rangers, 2,008 PA), Rafael Devers (Red Sox, 1,917 PA) and José Abreu (White Sox, 1,910 PA).

Much has been made of the Twins’ careful usage of many players throughout Baldelli’s tenure as manager, often coming as a combination of matchup considerations and lingering health issues. Often, the Twins will carefully monitor and converse with players to determine their availability. Baldelli says there’s rarely even a discussion when it comes to Polanco. The default is just to pencil him in and ask questions later. 

“You just put him in the lineup, and he plays,” Baldelli said.

It helps that Polanco has played premium positions up the middle at shortstop and second base with solid contact ability -- and he does it from both sides of the plate. The switch-hitting is a big consideration, Baldelli says.

“You look at every single lineup you make, it's like, ‘Oh, that lineup, we don't want him off today,’” Baldelli said. “And then you say the same thing tomorrow. Like, ‘We don't want him off tomorrow, we're facing a lefty, we don't want him off tomorrow.’ And it's like, you can say that every day.”

The plan is for Polanco to be back in the Twins’ lineup in Cleveland on either Monday or Tuesday, without a rehab assignment -- because, of course, Polanco wouldn’t need one.

“I can tell you the guy plays through everything that a human being could play through,” Baldelli said. “That's it. I don't know what else to say. I think that kind of sums it up pretty good. ... It's not like it's a one-day thing when you're dealing with that kind of stuff for months at a time and still finding a way to produce at the highest level of baseball. It's impressive. That's who he is.”